Teacher Myth #1

I’m excited to start a new series of posts on the theme of teacher myths.  Every week I will be examining a teacher myth.

Teacher Myth 1:

A Teacher’s Job is to Teach, Not to Concern Themselves With the Social Dynamics of the Classroom

I remember a student I encountered during my second round of placements as a student teacher.  The boy (I will refer to him by the name Max), was a teacher favourite.  He was well-mannered, courteous to others, bright, hard-working, loved learning and a very good listener.  Max had a glaring problem that didn’t seem to worry his teacher one bit.  As soon as the bell would ring for recess he would go out with the other kids, make a bee line straight for the line-up area, and sit himself down on the line waiting for the inside bell to ring.  And there he waited all by himself, desperate to do away with playtime and stick to what he was good at – working in the classroom.

The first time I noticed Max striking a lonely figure at the line, I did nothing about it.  What could I do?  I reflected on it that night and decided that if it happened again the following day I would try to help him in whatever way I could.  Sure enough the very next recess saw Max sitting at the head of the line-up area, waiting for the bell.  I approached him and sat next to him, saying nothing to him so as not to make him anxious.  I just sat there until he gave me eye contact.  Instead of advising him to go out and play with friends and reminding him about obvious details like the quality of the weather and the importance of exercise, I opened the conversation by enquiring about his interests, hobbies, what his parents did for a living etc.  After a few minutes we were engaged in a wonderful conversation.  So good was our chat, that Max’s classmates started to become curious and soon enough there was a group of students at the line-up area listening and contributing to my conversation with Max.  You could tell how surprised they were to find out how interesting this loner was and how different he was to their past perceptions of him.

Here is a kid who gets good grades, great reports and glowing feedback from his teachers based on his academic performance, yet needs as much help in school as the struggling student sitting next to him.

Good teachers know that if you limit your job to the dissemination of facts alone, you are letting down your students.

It’s very important to improve the academic skills and convey facts and concepts to the class, but in my view it is of equal importance to ensure that your students are well looked after, are managing socially and have a positive sense of self.  If school was just about academic achievement it would have to be viewed as in institution designed for many to fail.  There are students in every class who will not find learning maths, science etc. easy at all.  They are not natural academic.  This is more than alright, because with the right attitude and a patient teacher they can progress beyond their wildest dreams.  School is not just about academics, it’s about finding a place in a group, contributing for and co-operating with others.  So much of ones youth is spent at school.  If there isn’t a great deal of time put in to helping the children gain a sense of self and a place where they harness their diverse skills and qualities, then sadly it is a huge opportunity lost.

That’s why I am not surprised that anti-bullying programs have proved ineffective.  You cannot deal with the problem through a peripheral program, you have to make the self-esteem and quality of life of students paramount.  Equal to their academic performance.  After all, your students in time will probably forget about the important dates during the Civil War and will have long ago lost a knowledge of single-celled organisms and The Fibonacci Sequence.  What they will however take with them is memories of positive and negative interactions with teachers and students during their school years.  Unfortunately, for way too many, those interactions have been particularly negative and destructive.

The best teachers (for which I can only aspire to be one day), are not content with academic performance within the classroom.  They want much more from their students.  They want their students to have an appreciation for themselves and others.  They want them to develop a selflessness and to harness their ability to find compassion for others and make constructive life choices.  If my students don’t become lawyers or doctors (not that there is anything wrong with that), it won’t worry me one bit.  I just want my students to grow up to live happy and constructive lives, to look out for others and to carve out a legacy for themselves.

If you have a child who is floundering socially or is being harassed at school, it is more than appropriate, in fact it’s advisable that you alert the teacher.  And if that teacher shows a lack of interest in the matter, then he/she isn’t doing their job properly.

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10 Responses to “Teacher Myth #1”

  1. Anthony Purcell Says:

    This is very true! Too many people believe that we are there to stand in front of the room and tell the students what to do. We teachers spend our days running around the room, working with kids, and getting to know them as person. I feel that is why the end of the year is so difficult. We have built relationships and not just educational ones, but also family ones. We become a part of their lives and we do care. Thanks for the post!

  2. Santo Says:

    Beautiful!

    We teach students, not subjects, and your story is a perfect example of how caring teachers can make a real difference in the lives of their students.

  3. peakers82 Says:

    As someone who has worked in autism, I really enjoyed this post. I have worked with kids who could outperform others 2 years older than them but couldn’t respond to a question. We should all hope to address all aspects of the students life not just the academics.

  4. The Pheonix Says:

    I’m a student and I couldn’t agree more! You’re a legend to me. Good luck with your teaching and believe me, many of your students will become a great success one day and I’ve learnt a few stuff from your blog so if I become the ruler of the Earth then you’ll have some credit towards it. Thanks.

  5. The Edmonton Tourist Says:

    I am a Head Start Teacher. Noobs come in thinking they can change the world by teaching the children how to count and write, then they learn if you teach the child self help skills – you have just changed their world. Good Post!

  6. Richelle Says:

    A teacher is an educator, a role model, a counselor, and a listener. The lessons are actually the easy part. Kudos to you and every educator out there — I only hope they take their role as seriously as you do.

  7. hakea Says:

    I taught a social and emotional skills programme called Second Step in the classroom last year. It was brilliant!

    I really liked the approach you used with the student. As I will be studying teaching this year, I will be back to draw upon your experience. Thank You.

  8. Margaret Reyes Dempsey Says:

    You sound like a wonderful teacher. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog tomorrow. Sleep beckons.

  9. JonnyNilsen Says:

    JonnyNilsen…

    […]Teacher Myth #1 « Topical Teaching[…]…

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